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How do you define a complex project?

What do you consider to be a complex project? Is it the size of the project? Or the budget? Or the technology? Or something else?
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Initially there is a difference between complexity,complication and difficulty due to cost or performance but this doesnt mean that the project is complex as complexity includes ambiguity or uncertainty which has a great degree of unpredictability.
Identify the complexity level which may include timeline ,budget and restraints,many moving parts and the involvement of many teams and stakeholders and manage these elements with an increasing level of adaptability,collaboration,communication,expertise and leadership.

Cross functional teams involved and affected, multiple deliverables, compliance requirements/constraints (SOX, PCI, IFRS/ASC, etc.), dependencies on other projects...

All projects are complex. In my humble opinion, when you understand that, is the first step do not fail as project manager.

Edward -

Complexity originates from many factors including:

- Challenging constraints (iron triangle + quality, resources, etc.)
- How unique the scope or solution approach is
- The number and diversity of key stakeholders


Hello Edward: In a previous company, we used a project value metric that looked at Business Outcomes (safety, revenue, cost, efficiency, satisfaction), Strategic Alignment (local, corporate, business initiatives), Risk (regulatory, mandatory, funding, risk in not doing) and then Level of Difficulty (size, technology, complexity, etc) is addressed and ranked helping to arrive at a total weighted score. These all were defined to help arrive at a complexity rating and an over project score.

As Sergio said, all projects are complex, (but not all are complicated.)

Complexity like dampening is a word so often misused that the incorrect meaning is the generally accepted one. I suspect because it is because there is no elegant word in the English language for degree of complication (complicatedness?). It seems a trivial distinction except to people who have to use both words accurately in their professions.

Complexity is the number of things involved and a useful component to evaluate the overall difficulty which is what most people think it means. When considering complexity in projects, I tend to think of organizational complexity, schedule complexity, and product/system complexity. Organizational complexity is the number of critical stakeholders because that can affect the level of difficulty in communication and decision making among other things. Schedule complexity is the number of events being managed in the project. Product complexity is a combination of how many discrete parts there are to the solution, and the number of functions achieved by the project.

Overall difficulty is then a factor of the number of things you are considering in the project, the degree of difficulty of each discrete thing, and the degree of difficulty of the influences or interfaces between the many things.

I think that the complexity depends on the strategic definition (business case and / or profit management plan), since there we find the purpose of the organization, the success variables and the restrictions on which we develop the projects, instance in the which, we can also define the complexity, this implies that we can not standardize the criteria of complexity for all projects and industries, surely for social organizations the financial factor will not be as relevant as the social impact and the opposite with private sector projects.

Pienso que la complejidad depende de la definición estratégica (caso de negocio y/o plan de gestión de beneficios), ya que ahí encontramos el propósito de la organización, las variables de éxito y las restricciones sobre las cuales desarrollamos los proyectos, instancia en la cual, podremos definir también la complejidad, esto implica que no podemos estandarizar los criterios de complejidad para todos los proyectos e industrias, seguramente para las organizaciones sociales el factor financiero no será tan relevante como el impacto social y lo contrario con proyectos del sector privado.

While not all projects are complex, identifying the elements and processes that contribute to complexity help us understand why too many complex projects fail, and how to more effectively manage complexity.

Projects can be defined by the level of complexity that exists for the completion of the project. This can be initially scoped out before the inception of the project by ascertaining available resources, stakeholders commitment but also the likelihood of unforeseen circumstance that could hinder the advancement of the project. The complexity of a project increases when risks become realised and prevent project deliverables and key milestones from being realised.

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